SOLAR EQUATION, ULM MINSTER, GERMANY
Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer
has reprised a concept that he first created for the
Melbourne Light in Winter festival in 2010, and later
Durham Lumiere. His original presentation featured
the world’s largest spherical balloon, animated to
mimic the constantly changing surface of the sun.
This year he brought Solar Equation to illuminate
the Gothic gloom of Ulm Minster, the tallest church
in the world, in celebration of the tower spire’s
125th anniversary. A gigantic balloon measuring six
metres in length and animated by eight Panasonic
projectors was hung for three months in the middle
of the nave. The projected images provided a faithful
representation of the activity on the sun’s surface,
complete with turbulence, flares and sunspots –
created by live mathematical equations. The Hanover
office of Airstar European Network (AEN) provided
and installed the balloon.
Although this model of the sun was two million
times smaller than the real thing, Lozano-Hemmer
wanted to make it look as authentic as possible.
‘We worked with Nasa scientists to understand the
dynamics of the sun in order to generate a faithful
atmosphere of its activity,’ he says. ‘We didn’t want
to project a loop but content that was constantly
changing. So we installed cameras which observed
the public, resulting in changes in the sun behaviour
and activity.’ The more people actively watching, the
more dynamic the sun’s movement.
The Ulm project brought its own set of challenges.
The balloon’s dimensions had to be sized down
to fit the confines of the historic church. It proved
impossible to use helium (which is also expensive), so
the balloon was filled with hot air and hung instead.
It was also important to prevent daylight from
outside interfering with the impact of the glowing
sphere. Specialist stage curtains were hung in the
church’s two aisles and the entrance hall.
Lozano-Hemmer intends his Solar Equation
installations to provoke thought and debate on
the nature of the sun, whether reflections on its
ephemeral, mysterious beauty, its place in cultural
mythology or its role in harnessing natural forces
for sustainable power.
Projectors transform the specially made hot air balloon into a
miniature sun, complete with turbulence, flares and sunspots